Maternity Clothes

Tips for staying comfortable and stylish on a budget

What with planning the nursery, stocking up on baby clothes, seeing your doctor, and all the other pregnancy-related activities devouring your time and attention, who's got time to worry about what to wear? But as the weeks fly by and your baby grows larger, there's no escaping it: You're going to need some new clothes.

If you're worried about how to stretch your clothing budget when your clothes can't stretch another inch, relax. It's possible. There's probably never been a better time to be pregnant and look fabulous without going broke.

Here are some tips to help you dress comfortably and fashionably without the cost of a whole new wardrobe.

Take stock of what you've already got

Chances are, if you're a jeans and T-shirt kind of gal, these are the clothes that will make you feel good during pregnancy too. You don't have to run out and buy high-ticket maternity clothes just because your belly is getting bigger. The best strategy is to pick out a few pre-pregnancy pieces that you love and wear to death, then find something similar in larger sizes. Depending on the cut, you may even be able to wear some pre-pregnancy favorites for several months. If you stick with styles and colors you like, you'll certainly get your money's worth.

Raid your partner's closet

Teamed with stretchy black leggings (perhaps a pregnant woman's best friend), over-sized T's or large, unbuttoned shirts could become a staple uniform during your pregnancy. Bigger sweat pants, pajama pants, or running shorts can also come in handy during that awkward transition time when you can no longer zip, button, or stretch your regular clothes around your stomach, but you're still too small for maternity wear.

Borrow before you buy

Remember: Millions of women have been there before you, so it makes sense to see what you can borrow from family or friends before you buy. Don't be too picky: Take whatever is offered and weed out those items you think you won't wear. And it's best to hang onto it all too -- those roomy overalls you reject now may be just what you need for those final weeks when comfort is everything and nothing seems to fit.

Borrowed clothes can also help you determine what works for your figure before you invest in new items. Do you prefer stretchy panels, elastic waistbands, or underbelly support bands? Is an A-line or Empire waist dress (narrow at the shoulders, flare below the bust) for you, or do you prefer the long-over-lean look (slim-fit top over tailored slacks)?

And don't forget to return the favor when your pregnancy is over. If the person who loaned you the clothes doesn't want them back, pass them on to someone else who can use them.

Maternity must-haves

Regardless of your size, style, or budget, there are a few clothing items that all pregnant women can use. Those stretchy black leggings, a white T-shirt, jeans, a long tunic top, a little black dress, an oversize shirt, a short or long skirt, black slacks, and drawstring comfy pants are all versatile pieces that can look classic, classy, or funky, depending on your personal flair. If you favor the flowered frock look, there are plenty of those to choose from as well.

It makes sense to buy some quality basics if you can't borrow these items. Then you can mix and match them with the occasional new piece, so you feel fresh and fashionable right through that third trimester. Some of these items may even come in handy after you give birth and before you regain your pre-pregnancy shape.

Make a list of what you'd like and can afford

Now that you know what you already have and what you'll need, it's time to make a shopping list. This will help you avoid those impulse buys that can blow your budget. Figure out what you can comfortably afford to spend on clothing over the course of nine months, and allow yourself a little wiggle room for an occasional splurge when you feel like you need a boost. Don't forget to factor in underwear, shoes, and accessories.

Browse for bargains

There's no law that says you have to pay full retail prices just because you're pregnant. Since maternity clothes aren't worn for very long, they stay in pretty good shape, making them ideal items to pick up at secondhand stores, consignment shops, and yard sales (just remember to run them through the washer and dryer right away). Keep an eye out for clothes that will get you through the whole nine months -- and keep the seasons in mind when you shop.

When you do decide to make a new purchase, shop around before reaching for your purse. You may find significant price differences between maternity-wear stores, catalogs, and online outlets.

Don't forget the extras

If there is one item where it isn't wise to skimp, it's your bra. You'll feel and look better if you invest in comfortable, supportive bras that fit properly. Toward the end of your pregnancy you may want to spring for maternity bras that can also be used for nursing. Find an experienced fitter at your local department store or lingerie shop (check with friends for a recommendation) and seek her expert advice.

As for underwear, there's no need to buy expensive maternity panties. Many women swear by larger-size bikini briefs, because they don't like anything covering their tummies. Others prefer briefs that reach to the waist. Wear what works for you.

It's easy to overlook your feet, but they can expand during your pregnancy, too. If your feet do start to swell, you may need to buy shoes in larger sizes. (And you may still need them after you give birth.) Slip-ons are a good choice for later on in your pregnancy, when bending becomes problematic. This is probably not the time in your life to strut around in stilettos or sky-high wedgies. But you can find fun footwear that brings relief to tired toes and aching legs.

Some days you'll feel desperate to freshen up a well-worn outfit. Here's when well-chosen accessories can be your saviors. A silky scarf, dazzling, dangly earrings, even a snazzy pair of sneakers can brighten up a tired look. And the nice thing about new accessories is that you can wear them post-pregnancy, too.

Above all, remember: You're not fat. You're pregnant and proud of it! So go ahead and seek out eye-catching fashions that flatter your expanding hips and bottom and feel free to flaunt your figure if you're in the mood. If you're used to wearing tailored suits to work, find the styles that make you feel every bit as professional on the job as you did in your pre-pregnancy days. Even when you're just hanging out at home, a clingy tank top teamed with a zip-neck fleece and stylish yoga pants can keep you comfortable and looking good. Whatever your maternity wardrobe, enjoy it -- because you won't wear it for long.

References

Spencer, Paula. Parenting: Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth. Ballantine Books.

Murkoff, Heidi, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway.What to Expect When You're Expecting. Workman Publishing.

Sears, William, and Martha Sears. The Pregnancy Book. Little, Brown and Company.

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